Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made a public plea Friday, for some families and landlords to get in touch with the city about lead testing.
Between 2015 and 2017, 112 Milwaukee homeowners and renters were contacted about lead-poisoned children. There are still 80 that have yet to follow-up with the city.
The mayor says health department workers have repeatedly tried to make contact.
“The challenge these workers often have is that when they go to a home, an individual does not want them to come into their home,” Barrett said. “It could be for a variety of reasons. I want people to know that the individuals coming are there to help them.”
The new head of Milwaukee’s Health Department, Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, says they’ve made huge progress. The department has added seven new positions dedicated to solving the lead problem.
But the Milwaukee Health Department is still under criminal investigation for failed efforts under Bevan Baker, the previous commissioner.
“I joke because I think of all of my schooling, and being in grad school where you always had a weak link in a group project, and that was us,” Kowalik said. “That weak link was the health department. But it's a new day. We will not be that weak link. We will lead.”
Kowalik points to a new Centers for Disease Control tracking system implemented in Milwaukee, less than two months ago. She says it’s been very effective.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30 of 2018, 22,744 Milwaukee children were tested for lead poisoning. 941 of them had elevated blood lead levels. All of whom were contacted about follow-up services.
But the challenge remains: How do you reach those few absentee landlords or renters without stable housing.
“It’s all about communication and cooperation,” Barrett said. “I understand that we need to regain the trust of residents of this city, and the only way that will happen is through performance.”
The city is working with state leaders to try and determine how to reach the homeowners and renters who have not responded, and when is appropriate to close their case.
This is all part of Milwaukee’s larger effort to remove any source of lead poisoning, including paint, dust and water. In Milwaukee, it’s paint that’s the top source of lead poisoning among children.
Barrett also said Friday that the city has cleared nearly every hurdle in ending a federal “stop work order” for mistakes made by the city’s health department.
That means Milwaukee could soon regain funding from the Lead Hazard Reduction Grant.